Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 04 November 2022
- Welcome to Education Eye, a regular update detailing the policies and stories happening in UK education, compiled by Steve Besley.
What's happened this week?
Important stories across the board:
The build-up to the Autumn Statement has continued this week, with the Prime Minister and Chancellor meeting to go through the fine detail – red or perhaps green pens at the ready.
There’s talk of things being tough, with a ‘prolonged recession’, public sector pay rises limited to 2%, and a delicate balance of cuts and tax rises being worked on. As the Resolution Foundation put it in a report this week, the government faces 'an unpalatable menu of options', including to education, as it seeks to fill a suspected £40bn-£60bn fiscal hole.
More on this below, but first the main education-related headlines of the week.
- Education Committee. Nominations opened this week for the position of Chair of the Education Committee following Rob Halfon’s appointment as Minister at the DfE. A number of people, including two former Education Ministers – Robin Walker and Jonathan Gullis – have signalled their intent, and others are expected. Nominations close on the 15 November with a ballot, where necessary, set for the day after.
- HE Bill. The HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which first saw the light of day in May 2021 and which has been through various machinations ever since, reached one of its final staging posts this week with the House of Lords Committee Stage. It prompted a further wave of comment pieces. Among those contributing this week have been Wonkhe, Universities UK, and the think tank Policy Exchange.
- Curriculum Body. The government published the business case for its Arm’s Length Curriculum Body this week. The model, incorporating the Oak National Academy, was announced at the start of the summer and while it would provide free, online resources, it has also attracted criticism over costs and independence. Its first round of procurement was launched this week.
- Any young person interested in a technical career might want to visit the Science Museum. It has just opened a new interactive gallery, where in its words, you can 'try hands on exhibits that bring to life a wide variety of workplaces, from a blockbuster film set to a pharmaceutical lab, allowing you to experience the hidden yet vital careers of technicians'. The David Sainsbury Gallery as it’s known, was praised in a visit by the Education Secretary this week.
- Pandemic anxiety. How did the pandemic, its sharp change in work practices, and worries about pupil welfare, affect teachers? FFT Education Datalab provided some answers in a blog this week. Female teachers experienced more anxiety than men, and ‘headteachers had one hell of a time’. These were two of the ten findings listed.
Links to these and other stories below as usual.
But back to the economy and some of the details that have emerged this week as the government prepares for its Autumn Statement the week after next.
The scenario emerging for a sector like education appears pretty bleak.
In its report this week, the Resolution Foundation suggested that Rishi Sunak ‘faced a gloomier scenario as PM than he did as Chancellor’. Rising unemployment, weaker growth and ‘an unappetising menu of spending cuts and tax rises’, have seen to this. It means, they suggest, that planned real increases to some departments have become cuts. Both BEIS and DfE fall into that category. 'Education was expecting a real-terms rise of £1.5bn, but now faces a £0.6bn cut'.
This week’s Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee report has added to the prevailing mood of pessimism. 'The economy has been subject to a succession of very large shocks', it argued, pointing to a tight labour market, slow growth, and continuing inflation. It concluded that we are likely to be in recession ‘for a prolonged period’, with inflation unlikely to fall before the middle of next year.
Education bodies have been increasingly reporting on the challenges they face over funding,and as Teacher Tapp reported this week, ‘61% of teachers now see it as the number one issue facing schools’, and 77% of head teachers plan to run a deficit.
So can we see any light at all beyond a ‘this is going to hurt’ perspective?
The ten reforms outlined in an article in The Daily Telegraph this week by a group of leading ‘centre-right thinkers’ might help. The list includes a number of education and skills reforms. These include: using the Lifelong Learning Entitlement to transform skills; developing university campuses to ‘make them genuine growth hubs': supporting R/D especially around new technologies; incentivising business investment; and extending devolution. 'Mayors should be awarded a single spending settlement and greater powers over local transport, skills and research and development'.
The authors suggest that 'this is an agenda that is realistic, pragmatic and attainable – as well as ambitious and significant'.
Others taking a more bullish approach to the economic scenario include the IPPR think tank. In a briefing this week, they 'challenge the notion that spending cuts are somehow inevitable for restoring macroeconomic stability'. They acknowledge the importance of avoiding fuelling inflation and of supporting households, but reckon that there is ‘fiscal space’ for additional spending of between £90-£120bn. Tax rises are inevitable, but such funding, in their view, could be used to ensure public services like education are put on a secure footing.
In other words, there are options for growth and for investment in sectors like education.
The current thinking seems to suggest that the government is looking at a 50:50 model of cuts to tax rises, but as Deloitte found in its major report this week on the public sector: 'the public is split on the right balance between taxes, borrowing and public spending'.
None feels pain free.
The top headlines of the week
- ‘8 in 10 providers warn of soaring salary and facility costs’ (Monday).
- ‘Uni students’ legal action over pandemic education’ (Tuesday).
- ‘University to slash quarter of jobs due to drop in student numbers’ (Wednesday).
- ‘Not enough money.’ Secondary school heads warn MPs of budget woes’ (Thursday).
- Education could be Rishi Sunak’s big revolution.’ (Friday).
- UK economy. The Bank of England published its latest report on the UK economy pointing to 'a very challenging outlook', with inflation likely to hit 11% by the end of the year and not likely to fall until the middle of next year; GDP expected to decline around ¾%; and the labour market remaining tight – leaving the country facing a ‘prolonged’ recession.
- Budget build-up. The Resolution Foundation outlined the economic scenario as it saw it ahead of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, pointing to a ‘grim’ economic outlook with rising inflation, higher unemployment, weak growth, and a ‘fiscal hole’ of £40bn+, leaving the government facing an ‘unappetising menu’ of spending cuts and tax rises.
- State of the State. The consultancy body Deloitte published its latest annual major report on the UK public sector, with the cost-of-living crisis; the NHS; and climate change, seen as the major priorities currently, but with views split over the balance between taxes, borrowing and spending – and with levels of trust generally down.
- What about the workers? The TUC published polling evidence suggesting that thousands of public sector workers, particularly in areas like education and healthcare, were considering quitting their jobs because of poor pay.
- Older workers. The Demos think tank called for an Ageing Workforce Strategy in a new report this week, arguing that a package of measures around occupational health and work practices could help alleviate concerns about the growing numbers of 50 – 64-year-olds exiting the workforce prematurely.
- Vulnerable teenagers. The Commission on Young Lives highlighted the dangers and challenges facing teenagers in a final report, calling for a Sure Start style support network to help teenagers at risk and boost their education opportunities and life chances.
- Help at Hand. The children’s commissioner published the Annual Report and Review for the Help at Hand service, which provides support for children in care, highlighting its work, and challenges faced over the year, and pointing to a list of priorities for the coming year, including a focus on children caught between social care and hospital.
- Regional accents.The Sutton Trust published new research suggesting that bias towards certain accents can limit social mobility, with university students looking to enter the workforce, and senior managers all worried about the effects of accent bias on their careers.
More specifically ...
- Curriculum Body. The government set out the business case for establishing an Arm’s Length (curriculum) Body (ALB), built around the Oak National Academy model to provide free curriculum resources for teachers via a digital platform, arguing that this would relieve pressure on teachers, bank against future national contingencies, and complement much of the commercial market.
- Pupil absence. FFT Education Datalab provided an interesting briefing on pupil absences in schools in England for the first half of this term, showing an improving trend with a 5.1% absence rate in primary and 7.7% in secondary, including among those deemed persistent absentees.
- Reading support Ofsted reported on its findings from a group of secondary schools that had managed to improve the reading abilities of 11-year-old poor readers, listing such factors as being able to identify weaknesses, prioritise needs, and monitor progress, as critical for success.
- Lockdown learning. Parentkind and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Parental Participation in Education hosted a session in Westminster to hear further details from their recent report on lockdown learning – reinforcing some of the challenges faced in poorer households, the effects on many children, and the key role of edtech.
- Primary assessment. The Independent Commission on Assessment in Primary Education published its final report calling for ‘a renewed system of assessment’ to be developed over the next five years using national sampling rather than SATs, with summative assessments in Years 1 and 4, and with teachers given greater professional support in assessment opportunities.
- Skills funding. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) highlighted the funding challenges facing training and skills providers, in a survey published to coincide with their Autumn Conference, with over 80% of respondents – particularly in sectors like care, hospitality and transport – said to be struggling with rising costs.
- T levels. The House of Commons Library Service published a helpful briefing on T levels, outlining what they were, how they’ve been developed, and some of the debates around them, as the Education Committee continues its inquiry into post-16 qualifications generally.
- Technician careers. The Gatsby Foundation announced the opening with the Science Museum of the David Sainsbury Gallery, a new ‘free, permanent, interactive gallery’ dedicated to showcasing the wide range of technical careers open to young people, as part of a campaign to enhance technical education.
- Freedom of Speech. Leading university bodies reaffirmed their commitment to freedom of speech and academic freedom in a public statement issued ahead of the next stage in Parliament of the HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill this week.
- More on Freedom of Speech. The Policy Exchange think tank added its thoughts on the HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill, highlighting the case for it, while pointing to two areas (Equality Act interactions, the use of Statutory tort) where amendments should be considered.
- Student recruitment. The Institute of Student Employers highlighted some of the latest trends from its recent Student Recruitment Survey, pointing to lower growth this year as part of a gradual shift, with employers building a wider and more diverse talent line.
- 25th Simon Gaskell, Chair of the QAA, reflected in a blog for Wonkhe on the work of the Agency as it reached its 25th anniversary, highlighting the importance of being an independent voice; its work on quality; and its recent decision not to continue as the Designated Quality Body in England, while looking ahead to the next 25 years.
- Undergraduate admissions. In a presentation this week, Nick Hillman, director of the HE Policy Institute (HEPI), considered policy developments, and, in particular, the current scenario around university admissions, urging applicants for 2023 entry “to cast their nets wide and to think as much about where they will live as what they will study”.
- Data collection. The Office for Students (OfS) updated on parts two and three of its recent consultation on data collection, indicating that with so many developments going on at present, it would hold fire on further decisions for a while.
Tweets and posts of note:
- “Just putting it out there… but I didn’t do any work over half term and I never do. That doesn’t make me any less of a teacher” | @londonteacher_’
- “I am on a conference. Pens are provided!” | @ShakinthatChalk
- “Pupil stated to me that she thought I was ‘at least’ 42 today. I’m 23. Is it time I resign? No coming back from that” | @hayo_luke
- “I love the WonkHE emails because they always start like “good morning. something terrible has happened. have a good day” | @MxElisePage
- “Overheard a university student say “Arctic Monkeys were my dad’s favourite band when I was little”. The passage of time is relentless, unfathomable, cruel, and unforgiving” | @philosofarr.
- “My house still isn’t tidy after half term so I’ll have to give it my best shot for Christmas instead” | @primaryteachew
- “Went to a Halloween party at the pub, took ages to get served as they only had a skeleton staff working…” | @DadJokeMan
A selection of quotes that merit attention:
- “It is expected to be in recession for a prolonged period and CPI inflation remains elevated at over 10% in the near term” – the Bank of England issues its latest report on the UK economy.
- “It’s our job as politicians to go to where the people are — not to sit in ivory towers in Westminster” – Matt Hancock on why he’s doing that programme.
- “I have a picture of President Kennedy on my wall in the Department for Education, because he put a man on the moon, and moved the whole engine of government, universities and science to achieve that purpose (of supporting science and technology) – the new Minister at the DfE, Rob Halfon, in a debate in Westminster about science and technology.
- “Getting this balance right is not always straightforward and relies on the close cooperation of all members of the university community, including in partnership with students’ unions” – leading university bodies on freedom of speech.
- “I’m not paying £2 for a loaf this year. Or the next. It’s offensive. I’d rather get used to bird food” – students tell the Student Room about managing the cost-of-living.
- “The arguments made by both traditionalists and progressives appear to have little support in our data, suggesting the debate has been somewhat misleading for the field” – UCL researchers John Jerrim and Sam Sims reflect on the arguments over traditional v progressive teaching.
- “If I hadn’t made it singing, I think I would be an English lit teacher” – Adele considers a career break to study English Literature.
- “We’re now consulting on changes to telecoms rules that could see the fax machine become a thing of the past” – Ofcom signals the end of the fax machine.
Not-to-be-missed numbers of the week:
- 1.8m. The number of public sector workers considering quitting their jobs because of low pay, according to the TUC.
- 35%. The number of hospitality firms that could go bust next year, according to a UK Hospitality survey.
- 41%. The number of university students from the North of England concerned that their accent could affect their future success, according to research from the Sutton Trust.
- £42.5m. The cost estimate for the creation of the Arm’s Length curriculum Body, according to the DfE.
- 43%. The number of non-senior teachers who reckon that the size of the senior leadership team in their school could be reduced without damaging consequences, according to Teacher Tapp.
Everything else you need to know ...
What to look out for next week:
- Education Committee witness session on post-16 qualifications (Tuesday 8 November).
- Westminster Hall debate on temporary visas for industries experiencing labour and skills shortages’ (Tuesday 8 November).
- LSECT online Subcontracting Funding Summit (Wednesday 9 November).
- Release of provisional summer A level and other results (Thursday 10 November).
- Word of the year. As many people have remarked, it’s rather appropriate that Collins Dictionary has declared the term ‘permacrisis’ as its word of the year. Its official definition is 'an extended period of instability and insecurity, especially one resulting from a series of catastrophic events'. Yes, that’s how it’s felt for us, has been the general reaction. Other words of the year listed by Collins include: ‘vibe shift’ (a noun referring to a significant change in a prevailing cultural atmosphere or trend); ‘splooting’ (the act of lying flat on the stomach with legs stretched out), and perhaps the more familiar ‘Partygate’. A link to the list is here.
All I want for Christmas. This week, Barnardo’s released its 2022 Christmas campaign. This aims to provide food, clothing and support for children and families struggling at this time of year. To coincide with the release, Barnardo’s published a commissioned YouGov survey showing how much families are cutting back this year. 55% of parents responding said they’d be cutting back on food and drink, and 47% said they’d be spending less on presents. It mirrors wider surveys from YouGov. A link to the story is here.
If you find my policy updates useful, please consider donating something, however small, to help support its publication. EdCentral is a not-for-profit social enterprise and relies on donations to continue its work.
You can sign up here to receive access to Education Eye straight from your inbox on publication.
Disclaimer: Education Eye is intended to help colleagues keep up to date with national developments in the education sector. Information is correct at the time of writing and is offered in good faith. No liability is accepted by Steve Besley or EdCentral for decisions made on the basis of any information provided.